Sex selection boosts breeders

Countryman

New biotechnologies that influence the sex ratio and fertility of production animals are set to lift the productivity and profitability of Australia’s cattle and aquaculture industries and address major sustainability and welfare issues.

Being able to produce more animals of the desirable sex to re-stock the herd, pond or sea cage has been a long-held goal of these sectors, along with cost effective and welfare-friendly ways to control unwanted animal pregnancies.

A new multi-million dollar, three-year research project being undertaken by an international partnership, led by the CSIRO in Australia, aims to make these goals a reality.

CSIRO Food Futures Flagship director Bruce Lee said the project aimed to develop a vaccine to sterilise male and female cattle, better methods for breeding female only Atlantic salmon that were more productive than their male counterparts and sterile female prawns which grew 30 per cent faster than males.

He said the research collaboration, which involved CSIRO, the University of Queensland (UQ), the University of Newcastle, Simon Fraser University in Canada and Central Michigan University in the US, combined world-class scientists to find solutions to difficult problems.

“By bringing together scientists from CSIRO and other top Australian and international research institutions, the sex ratio and sterility cluster will produce more significant outcomes far more rapidly than if we each tackled these problems on our own,” he said.

“This research will also open up possibilities for a viable export services industry based on the sale of Australian produced, live and sterile aquaculture species, such as prawns, to stock the farms of global producers — particularly in Asia and the Middle East.”

UQ Professor Michael Holland, who leads the science effort, said preventing pregnancies in the cattle industry using non-surgical methods would provide major productivity and welfare benefits to the livestock sector.

“We will initially evaluate the feasibility of an immunocastration vaccine for female cattle based on zona pellucida proteins,” he said.

“We want to induce an immune response which specifically targets the ovary, making the animal sterile.”

Professor Holland said a linked project at the University of Newcastle would use peptides with binding specificity for male and female germ cells as alternatives to surgical sterilisation.

“We expect to have a profound impact on the profitability and global competitiveness of Australia’s animal industries and the reliability of our food supply,” he said.

“We hope to create new life science technologies for application in Australia and internationally.”

The sex ratio and sterility research cluster will invest more than $6.6 million during the next three years and university partners will receive $2.5 million from CSIRO’s Flagship Collaboration Fund.

This fund was set up to enable the skills of the wider Australian and global research community to be applied to the major national challenges targeted by CSIRO’s Flagship research programs.

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